By David Werther.
Arcade Fire, The Suburbs and Scenes from the Suburbs, DVD, 2011
A year ago Arcade Fire released a long concept album entitled The Suburbs. The rock band that adds violin, viola, harp and hurdy gurdy into the mix just released a longer version of the same, adding two songs ("Culture Wars" and "Speaking in Tongues"), and a DVD with the title track video, a short movie, a film about making the movie, and an 80-page booklet. In between the two releases, the band opened for U2 and won the Grammy for the best album of the year.
Any depiction of the suburbs is apt to be bleak. It is impossible to put a positive spin on communities that find their spiritual centers in shopping malls. The suburban lifestyle has been inverted. If the suburbs were once a place to flee to, in order to leave the congestion of the cities, they are now a place of bland uniformity to flee from. At any rate, they would be if we could escape. In the world of Arcade Fire, there is no way out. On the back cover of the CD's slip case we see three teenagers looking away from their suburb, clinging to a fence, topped with barbed fire. There is not much to see, maybe a glimpse of another shopping mall rising like a mountain out of the flatlands ["Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)"], or smoke rising from a battle over the location of a golf course (opening narrative of "Scenes from the Suburbs").
Hobbes wrote that that life in a state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty and brutish. Arcade Fire tells us that life in state of suburban sprawl is lonely ("Ready to Start"), impersonal ("Modern Man"), nightmarish and boring ("The Suburbs"). Hobbes' humans settle on a social contract, so that they can have enough security to get on with life. Arcade Fire's suburban kids have nothing to do, but waste away the hours behind suburban fences that can offer no protection from an enemy with firepower (the armed ski-masked force in "Scenes from the Suburbs").
Spend a minute online looking at album ads and you will quickly find repackaged versions of original releases, super versions of the original with additional tracks, and super-duper versions with added tracks, a DVD, and who knows — maybe even a napkin autographed by the stars. And, these things can be pricey; it takes a lot of people to keep rock stars comfy in the luxuriant lifestyles to which they have become accustomed. If Arcade Fire offers us any hope that there is a way out of suburban consumerism, it is in the price of their deluxe package, less than the usual prices of a CD. And, I did not even have to go to a mall to get a copy — ok, well, maybe a virtual mall.